Irish backstop –
The Beannchor Group, one of the North’s largest operators of hotels, pubs and restaurants, has temporarily laid off 800 staff because of coronavirus. It has made a direct plea to Boris Johnson to help its former employees “feed their children and pay their bills”.
Bill Wolsey, managing director of the group, which includes some of Belfast’s most popular pubs, the luxury Merchant Hotel and the Little Wing Pizzeria chain of restaurants, told The Irish Times that he had waited as long as he could before deciding to temporarily close the doors of some of his operations.
“I have been in business for 42 years, and never before have I had to make anyone redundant. It used to be my proudest boast that we never let anyone go. It was the toughest day of my life to tell the people who helped make our group a success story that I was letting them go. There was a lot of tears, and now I want to make sure that our people are looked after.
“I had no choice. Two weeks ago we could see what was happening and we were in discussions with our banks about what was coming down line. And they had been very supportive about what we had hoped to do to avoid this.
“But then Boris Johnson made his statement about staying away from pubs and restaurants, and that was it – our business fell off the cliff,” Mr Wolsey said.
The UK government has confirmed that it will give the Northern Ireland Executive an additional £640 million (€693m) on top of an earlier package worth £260 million to help it to tackle the impact of the spread of Covid-19, particularly on the healthcare front.
However, Mr Wolsey said for him and other hospitality businesses in the North the British government’s move would not save jobs, and simply offered firms an opportunity to “load up on debt”.
“I took the decision to temporarily close most of the bars and hotels and temporarily lay off people for three reasons; for the good of the country, to keep my staff and my customers safe and to safeguard our business – we need to have a healthy business so people can return to work.
“But what has Boris Johnson done? He has been behind the curve with this virus. He and his scientists have got the figures completely wrong – there has been lots of bumbling but a lack of leadership.
“Michelle O’Neill [the Deputy First Minister] called me and asked me what was the one thing she could do, and I told her help my employees, look after my employees.
“We need a government package for employees like those that have been made available across the Border and in France and Germany, where they look after wages and help people pay their bills.”
Industry group Hospitality Ulster told the Northern Ireland Assembly’s economy committee on Wednesday that job losses in the hospitality sector were “spiralling out of control”.
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The group said there the Executive needed to introduce an immediate staff support package for people who have lost their jobs of £200 per week “so that they can put food on the table”.
Meanwhile, another major pubs operator, the Clover Group, has confirmed that it has also laid off 180 in the North.
A Newry-based company which specialises in cruise ship fit-out refurbishment and major interior fit-out projects is likely to also lay off people . The family-owned MJM Group has issued a letter to all of its employees which details how “all of the company’s current orders have been postponed indefinitely by our customers, with the exception of one project”.
“This project can be completed by a small number of staff by the end of April 2020. We have no other existing future work orders,” the MJM Group said in the letter.
The company, which employs nearly 300 people, added:”It is with deep regret that we have to inform you that redundancies in large numbers are unavoidable. We wish to continue to employ as many of our workforce as we can.”
In Co Tyrone another major employer has also warned its workforce that job losses may be unavoidable. Mallaghan Engineering is a long-established manufacturer of airport ground support equipment, and also recently started manufacturing airport buses. It currently employs more than 450 staff across its key manufacturing sites in Dungannon and Georgia, Atlanta, in the US, and five other global offices.
Ronan Mallaghan, chief executive at Mallaghan, said the coronavirus outbreak was having “a significant impact on global aviation” and flagged “an extremely challenging period”.
“Mallaghan is continuously reviewing the situation and regrettably there will be a substantial reduction in the workforce.
“All options are being reviewed at this time to safeguard as many of our employees as possible and to ensure that the company is able to manage through this difficult period.”
He said the company had entered 2020 in “ a phenomenally strong position”, adding that he saw no reason why this level of activity could not resume when the crisis had passed.
The North’s Finance Minister has said that businesses in Northern Ireland who are battling the impact of coronavirus will benefit from an emergency £100 million rates package and other measures that are expected to be introduced by the Executive.
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